Friday, 31 May 2013

Things and Stuff #4

Things and Stuff is a grab-bag of things that've been on my mind this week. In this edition: bestsellers, concert, varnish, Gunnerkrigg, eagles

Thing 1: These two really interesting posts about what makes a book a bestseller
First, John Green posted about the factors that he thinks came together to make The Fault In Our Stars the phenomenon that it is. He talks about his editor, his publicist, his publishing house, the book itself, and the evangelical readers. He also explains why he doesn't think that his massive online presence or his gender have very much to do with it. Critics loved the book, but who made sure the critics read it? Why could bookshops easily display his previous books as a set?

Like this (C) Karen Kavett, who designed the lovely box art
Secondly, Jennifer Barnes takes this idea and expands upon it. She talks about publishing success as a flow-chart with lots of feedback loops, where every aspect of the book and the author continually feed into the book's chances of success. She argues (and in my opinion she's spot on) that elements like the author's gender can't be dismissed as part of the equation but it's not helpful to imagine they exist in a vacuum. If you're interested in publishing and books and bookselling, read this post! It's a bit long but it explains all this far better than I could.

Thing 2: The first thirty seconds of I Was Glad
I was on The One Show this week! Check out the Youtube clip of it here. My choir, Crouch End Festival Chorus, supplied a little group of singers to illustrate a conversation about the anniversary of the coronation, which is on Tuesday, June the 4th.

Not at all coincidentally, we're doing a concert on that evening in the Royal Festival Hall, including Walton's Coronation Te Deum, various coronation hymns and Belshazzar's Feast, which is one of my favourite pieces in the world. And we're being joined by our sort of sister-choir the Hertfordshire Chorus and the Dessoff Choir all the way from New York City. There will be 291 of us. It's going to be pretty amazing. If you're in London on the 4th, you should come!

Thing 3: this nailvarnish
The colour is called The Iron Price.
WE DO NOT SOW (C) me, varnish by Fanchromatic Nails
It's come out much redder in this picture - in person it's much more of a rusty red-brown colour with massive chunks of red and silver. Looks like an old boat's been torn apart in a horrific sea battle and the result is painted on my nails. I love it.

Thing 4: this page of Gunnerkrigg Court
Gunnerkrigg Court is a really, really cool webcomic about two friends who go to a very strange school. Annie's got a magic stone and a way of getting on with strange creatures, and Kat is a mechanical genius. There are ghosts, fairies, lots of robots, spider demons, a giant crab and the trickster god Coyote. There's a forest and an industrial complex, divided by a huge chasm. People can teleport and go on field trips into space. And the evolution of the art style is also amazing to watch, if you're into that sort of thing. It's awesome, and well worth the time to read from the beginning if you never have.

Also there's a fox-creature in it which I love (C) Tom Siddell, available at Topatoco
There have been a few hints of romance - there are some older student characters who are boyfriend and girlfriend, and a very sad storyline about a boy who was also a bird. And there's also a relationship between a robot and a shadow which is just beautiful. But the comic has also been dropping hints for a while that Kat isn't straight, and I think it'd be hard to read it without feeling at some point as if Kat and Annie could be an item at some point in the future. But the problem with those feelings is that in general, they don't come to anything. I have a whole post on subtext and gay characters and fanfiction planned for some other time, but I'm used to recognising subtext but not holding my breath that it would ever become text.

Am I supposed to resist including two pieces of art from GC here? Well, tough. It's gorgeous. (C) Tom Siddell, also available as a print from Topatoco
This week, finally, a girl asked Kat out and she said yes.

I am so, so pleased about this. Not just because I want there to be gay characters in everything, though let's be honest, I sort of do. But because there's really not enough of the sweet, age-appropriate romance for tweens with gay characters. I think it's probably getting better, but there still aren't enough stories about gay tweens at all, let alone ones that aren't preachy and awkward. Kat's sexuality is a naturally-building, slow-burn storyline and I love it because it's what real life ought to be like: not substantially different than if one of the girls had been a boy.

Thing 5: Crystal Palace 1 - 0 Watford
YAAAAAAY EAGLES! We're going into the Premier League! We're going to be the worst team in the best league!

Some football players I feel vaguely guilty that I can't name, (C) Crystal Palace FC
I'm not the biggest Palace supporter in the world - I almost never actually watch football and I've only been to one game (it was a play-off, and we lost), but I still have a very soft spot for them in my heart. They are perpetual underdogs somehow, despite actually being quite good. And now they're Premier League underdogs! GET IN.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Things and Stuff #3

Things and Stuff is a grab-bag of things that've been on my mind this week. In this edition: LARP, Karen, edits, belt, Trenzalore

Thing 1: Empire
Not the magazine, this time - the roleplaying game. Jessie is, right now, in a field pretending to be a lizard-person and I hope having a marvellous time. It's been on my mind this week because I've been making some props for her, part of which I wrote about on Tuesday.

My favourite one - also the most complicated one and the last one, which meant I finished it around 2am on Wednesday. I still feel sleep deprived. But kind of proud. (C) me

I love making props for LARP, and I enjoy talking about LARP and hearing other people talk about it and watching Jessie write plots for Odyssey. It all seems really fun. But when I actually think about carrying heavy rucksacks out into a muddy field, to put on complicated costumes that I then have to store somewhere in my house when it's already full of Jessie's kit, and then sleeping in a tent for the weekend in between attempting to stay in character and remembering the rules and actually talking to people... I feel a bit like this:

Neil Gaiman being truthy as usual, (C) Craig Ferguson and the internet
Thing 2: Karen from WP has her own Guardian fashion blog!
Karen's run an amazing sewing blog, Did You Make That, for ages, and now she's going to be giving out awesome stitching wisdom on the Guardian site as well. Hooray Karen!

Thing 3: Edits.
The edits are here. I am equal parts excited and scared out of my wits. As with most actual writing work there's not a lot else I can say about it right now but I'll keep you posted.

Me (C) the internet

Thing 4: my new white belt, although I mostly ended up talking about being fat - if you don't want to read about that, you can skip to thing 5, it's got a brilliant Doctor Who joke in it
As someone who's been fat for the majority of my life I am distinctly leery of ever talking about food or anything I may do with my body, up to and including things like going for a walk or buying clothes, because people feel entitled to judge people like me, no matter what we're doing. Eating a burger? Fatso. Eating a salad? Thank god she's on a diet, she's such a fatso. Lying on the sofa? You will die alone and have to be winched out of your house. Doing some exercise? Haha look at that delusional sweaty face, she thinks she's Jessica Ennis or something.

Nobody actually says those things to me - except me, all the time, every day forever. But nobody has to say them for me to want to minimise people's opportunity to think them. The culture I live in reinforces these things, and even if it didn't I learned it at school and it's stuck with me just like quadratic equations haven't. I wish I could say that in the decade since leaving school nobody has said mean things to me at all, but unfortunately that's not true - I still get mocked in the street, not regularly, but not never. And let's not forget this is the internet: for every body positive blog there are fifty Youtube comments and a hundred adverts for 'simple tricks' to turn your disgusting flabby body into something more socially acceptable.

I swear, if I could reach through the screen and punch the person who invented those adverts in the mouth, I absolutely would.

And I'd try to keep my wrist straight, push from my back foot so the power comes from my torso, and keep my elbow up. Because I've joined a local martial arts school. Because... I thought I would. They had to specially order me a uniform big enough, but I've got a belt. It's white. I love it. I've been to two classes and I really enjoyed them, so there.

Thing 5: We've gone to Trenzalore by mistake!
Perfect observation is perfect (C) ThetaSigma8
The Doctor Who finale was brilliant. I was so relieved.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

My Creative Process

This weekend I learned that my creative process goes through a couple of identifiable stages, no matter what it is I'm creating.

For the first time in ages I sat down to do some drawings for other people to actually see. I've been making an in-character reference book for Jessie to take LARPing (live action roleplaying). And I decided - for some reason I'm still not 100% clear on - that it would be a good idea to fill it with illustrations, like a set of Tarot cards.

Symbolism! (C) The Rider Tarot

So, I'd decided to create something and had come up with a concept that was probably beyond my actual abilities. I was excited about it, but it was a bit of a leap of faith.

I am definitely not the worst artist who has ever lived. I'm definitely a better artist than I was when I was four, or ten, or fourteen. I think I've done something I can be proud of... but I'm also nervous about showing off and making a big noise about it, because I'm not exactly Rembrandt or Charles Vess or Julie Dillon or anything. I don't want anyone to think that I think that they're actually good. They're just... pleasantly OK! As an amateur, I'm proud of their not-terribleness!

This all sounds very familiar.

Oh my god, a person drew this. We are all not worthy to look upon the glory (C) Julie Dillon

I'd managed to do all but seven of the drawings in time for the first event at Easter. I'd done my level best, but only been able to submit the first two thirds on time. Unlike missing a publishing deadline, nobody was particularly annoyed about this apart from me. But like missing a publishing deadline, the world did not actually end. An unfinished product went out onto the field, and I felt simultaneously proud and worried people would judge it badly because I hadn't got it all done.

I got a new deadline: finish the last seven pictures in time to add them in before the next event. That was great. I'd done the first 19 in less time than that. I had loads and loads of time.

And then I procrastinated. In my spare time I watched three series of 30 Rock, cross-stitched Game of Thrones bookmarks, played Plants vs Zombies, stared out of the window, and even did a little bit of writing. Every so often Jessie would remind me that I needed to do it, and I'd feel ashamed for not doing it, and then I'd get resentful, and that would make me not want to work on it.

It was around this point that I realised I was not drawing in the exact same way as I don't write.

Eventually, enough time passed that I started to wonder if I even could do it any more. What if I'd only been able to draw as well as I had last time because I spent ages working up to it? What if I now had a week to do seven pictures - still plenty of time - but I'd completely lost the ability?

Finally, this weekend rolled round and I couldn't put it off any more. I had to put pencil to paper. I discovered I'd left myself seven of the hardest pictures to get right. I had a mini crisis over what clothes do and how to hands, but eventually it all came down to doing it: nothing was going to solve my problems until I actually put something down on paper.

And here's one of the results. See? I told you they were pleasantly, almost aggressively OK. (C) me

It's really interesting, identifying your own creative process - with all its hang-ups and flaws and staring out the window - through the medium of a different medium.

In order for there to be a drawing, I had to draw it. And that's the same advice writers have been giving each other since the dawn of time: if you want there to be writing, you have to do writing. Everything else comes later.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Things and Stuff #2

Things and Stuff is a grab-bag of things that've been on my mind this week. In this edition: Cornetto, Lemon, moving, Clara, Videblogisodes

On my mind this week: almost all nerd stuff. This is a thing you should probably get used to.

Thing 1: This trailer
OMGYES (C) Pegg/Wright and Universal

It looks like Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead had a baby and raised it in the Village of the Damned and Mark Heap is in it and I can't wait.

Thing 2: Liz Lemon
Our Lady of Having It All (C) heymonster

I've been watching a lot of 30 Rock and Liz Lemon is basically my hero. She is funny and nerdy and fairly competent and I love her. I love her food obsession, and her amazing relationship with Jack, and the way she handles Jenna and Tracy, and her Princess Leia outfit, and her boyfriends, and her attitude to sex, and the way she manages to make the phrase 'I want to go to there' genuinely hilarious.

But there is a flaw in the perfection that is Lemon: she's TV Ugly. In reality, Tina Fey is gorgeous, but people in the show act as if she's ordinary-looking. Lemon wears completely normal clothes and people comment on them as if she's wearing a paper bag. Lemon eats lots of junk food in a comedic fashion and people make jokes about her health and eating habits that wouldn't be funny at all if there were any outward sign that the junk food was actually damaging her health.

I think the reason the show completely gets away with it is because it knows she's TV Ugly. There are enough jokes about unrealistic expectations and women's bodies that the show can wink to the women in the audience: it's all right, we know that by real life standards this woman is very attractive and wearing perfectly good clothes - it's the people making the jokes about her who are all screwed up.

Thing 3: my attempts to move house
It would be way too much information (and very boring!) to go into this in any detail. I am attempting to move house, it is on my mind a lot. I've started to find it hard to watch nonsense property programmes on Channel Four.

Thing 4: This Mary Sue recap of last week's Doctor Who (spoilers for Nightmare in Silver, obviously) and the insights in the blog and the comments about Clara's role and presentation in the series.
I think it sums up all of the issues way better than I can here - I made a couple of comments that I pretty much stand by, if you're interested in my take.

I want to care, I really really do (C) The BBC
Basically: I think this series of Doctor Who needs a better script editor, but in lieu of someone with actual experience, can I just do it? I'll just borrow the TARDIS and go back a year and fix it so it's all a lot more coherent and so that they bring Governess Clara on the TARDIS like they were planning to do, and then I won't be worried that the final episode might be completely nonsensical. That's OK if I do that, right Steven? You'll get all the credit. Call me.

Thing 5: The Empire Magazine Cannes Videblogisodes are back!
I love Empire, I love their podcast, and I love this silly little video.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Things and Stuff #1

Helloooooooo interwebs.

Well. This is certainly a blog.

I have to admit to a little bit of stage fright about actually writing more honest-to-god blog posts. But there's very little point in having a blog if I don't put things on it, and I do love lists! So every Friday I'm going to do a little post about the things and stuff that have been on my mind this week.

Sometimes it'll be writing, editing or publishing based. Sometimes it'll be about music, or nerd stuff. Sometimes I might have a really boring week and just list fruits or something. More often it'll be a mixture of all of the above.

For instance...

Thing 1: A painless edit is the greatest thing ever
This week I handed in ('handed in' sounds a bit primary school, doesn't it? Let's go with) delivered the second draft of a book I'm freelance ghosting for Working Partners.

Not what a WP edit looks like, but funny (C) Eve Corbel
Sometimes, even with the detailed and specific edits you get on a WP project, editing can be a pain, in terms of time and in terms of emotional input. I have found that I need to do one sweep of the comments all the way through and just allow my ego to go wild. 'Nope', I say, sometimes out loud. 'No', 'not doing that', 'yes well if you'd read it properly you'd know what I meant'. You have to get those out of your system, because I've very rarely met an edit that wasn't bang on 100% correct once I'd done the 'nope' pass and moved on to the 'how do I fix it?' pass.

On this one, the 'nope' pass was more of a 'yep' pass, and it was so wonderful. 'Yep', 'I see what I did wrong there', 'ooh that's a great idea', 'yes we can cut that', and also - because WP editors are the best - a bit of 'aww, thank you!'. I love it when an edit comes together, and I loved doing my editing this week.

Thing 2: Iron Man 3

I have to say I was slightly dreading this film because I loved Iron Man very much and found Iron Man 2 to be fluffily entertaining, but... 'The Mandarin', seriously? Of all Iron Man and Marvel villains you could've picked, you decided that The Mandarin was the one you wanted to give screen time to? And he's being played by Ben Kingsley of all people? I was braced for so much horrible Hollywood racism.

But something amazing happened. The racism did not appear! The film turned around and lampshaded and contextualised the racism and it was the best day ever. After that, it was basically all fun and games and snappy dialogue and explosions and Rhodey and Pepper and passing the Bechdel Test (barely, but brilliantly) and really well depicted anxiety attacks and the dodgy disability stuff is in some ways not as dodgy as it could be. And if you saw Avengers, stay for the post-credits sequence. I made this face:

Seriously, it was this exact face (C)  Disney/The Internet
Also there is a joke about Croydon, which got the biggest laugh of the entire film.

Thing 3: This blog
I started a blog. It was sort of an accident. So that has been on my mind somewhat this week.

Thing 4: Ally Pally's lottery money
Incredibly exciting, but possibly irrelevant to people who've never lived in North London: Alexandra Palace has been promised £16m from the National Lottery! This is huge. I grew up just around the corner from Ally Pally and it's incredibly important. It's a beautiful building, it's historically and culturally significant, it's the original home of the BBC, it has several massive halls and a lovely park with views across all of London and a theatre and an ice rink, and the Doctor climbed it in order to use the BBC to save Muswell Hill from Maureen Lipman which may be the most North London sentence ever written.

The BBC, (C) The BBC
Unfortunately, it's also been destroyed by fire, not once but twice, so it's this huge building with huge potential that's been sitting half-empty for thirty years. The idea that it might finally get the funding it needs to be properly regenerated makes me very, very happy.

Thing 5: Blogger's post-editor spellcheck does not recognise the following words - 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Undiscovered Places

This is a blog for the 2014 Undiscovered Voices anthology blog tour! Undiscovered Voices is a bi-annual competition for unagented, unpublished writers run by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Without UV or SCBWI, I'm not sure I would ever have finished Skulk, let alone found the brilliant Catherine Pellegrino or Strange Chemistry to take it on. 

And now, here are six stories from six London locations, each of which played a fairly major role in Skulk and my Undiscovered Voices story... 

Dramatic reconstruction (C) Marijn Kampf
Picture the scene: it’s mid-November and you’re enjoying a chilly afternoon stroll in one of London’s tiny squares. All of them are pretty much the same – spiky iron railings, enormous trees, wooden benches, pigeons. This particular one is Tavistock Square, just off the Euston Road. You’re enjoying a quiet moment to yourself when all of a sudden thirty nerds in big coats descend, chatting about character and plot, clutching notebooks and laptops.

They settle down on the benches and begin scribbling. Their fingers quickly turn blue from cold, but they don’t stop until their leader announces time to pack up and move on, even though they’re being distracted by the single most persistent and fearless squirrel known to man, which is literally climbing up the benches as if to say ‘So, what’s your novel about?’ 

This was Nanorilla 2011, the guerrilla writing crawl held by the London chapter of Nanowrimo. I love Nanowrimo, and I’ve taken part every year since 2008, even though I rarely finish a book during the month. The Nano London group is the best in the whole world, no arguments. It’d be wrong of me not to also mention the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, where I and a group of equally crazy writers gathered to write through the night. We finally stumbled out, coffee-blind and slightly hysterical, at 6am, before anything was open except the McDonald’s – which is why one scene in Skulk takes place in a 24-hour Mc-D’s. 

Stables under the Westway (C) Giles Smith

Some places are beautiful, and some places are interesting. The Westway Flyover is definitely interesting. I used to cross it on a fairly regular basis on the Oxford Tube (which, despite the name, is a bus), and it became just familiar enough that I feel like I know it despite never having set foot on the ground there.

There are some strange things going on at the Westway Flyover. Like the way that you pass the Hilton and the city just seems to stop. On this side, Notting Hill Gate, Hyde Park, leafy crescents, bespoke cheese shops, houses with areas. On that side, nothing but motorway and suburb and the blocky behemoth of Westfield Shopping Centre. Not a bush or a shepherd in sight.

But the most fascinating thing is that the space underneath the flyover is far from empty – there’s a sports centre there with its own stables, a junk yard that used to have an amazing junk sculpture over the gate, and a caravan park where traveller kids could be seen riding their bikes round and round in tight circles and chasing escaping footballs down the street.
There’s a lot of life going on underneath the Westway Flyover. It seemed an appropriate place for Addie to have made her home.

There are no photographs of the WP Quiet Room (C) Kosmos

The Quiet Room
This sounds quite exciting, like an art installation, but actually it’s just a spare office upstairs at Working Partners. The main office is a big open-plan cluster of desks, so the upstairs office room is generally reserved for people who need space and quiet to get stuck into a tricky edit – but it can also be a handy place to sneak a private phone conversation or writing sprint over your lunch hour.

For such an unassuming room, it’s played a surprisingly big part in the story of Skulk. This was where I regularly came to hammer out a few hundred words over a bacon sandwich, but it’s also where I heard I was going to be in the Undiscovered Voices 2012 anthology! And even better, it’s where I snuck off to to take the phone call from Catherine Pellegrino saying that she loved Skulk and wanted to offer me representation. I’ve been so happy in this odd little room that my knees actually went weak, and also so stressed that I considered escape by leaping out of the window onto the Hammersmith and City line. Not bad for a spare office full of boxes of German copies of My Secret Unicorn.

It actually looks quite nice here, (C) Urban75

This fountain is the focus of simply one of my favourite and most self-indulgent lines in the whole book. They say kill your darlings, and they’re not wrong – but sometimes they get a stay of execution. If you opened the book of Skulk and on page one it had this line, and the rest was blank, I’d be quite happy.

Of course, since the line actually comes in about halfway through, you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is…

Classic badly lit backstage corridor photo (C) Capital FM

I’ve sung at the O2 a good four or five times now, almost all as backing to the great – if relentlessly populist – tenor Andrea Bocelli. This was a Crouch End Festival Chorus gig pretty much like any other. Uncomfortable black shoes, Nessun Dorma and Funiculi Funicula (which is an insanely catchy song about an Italian cable car), security wristband, brilliantly goofy percussionists, the tantalising possibility that there may be free tea and biscuits in the dressing rooms.

I realise I’m hugely privileged to think of all this as ‘normal’…
Except that I’d been told that Skulk was going to acquisitions at Strange Chemistry that day.
I checked my email about eight times between the escalator at North Greenwich tube and the backstage area, and indeed, the first email I got came just as I was waiting for the security man to find my name on the performers list and let me through. But it didn’t say ‘yes’, and it didn’t say ‘no’. What it said was, ‘Amanda Rutter, editor at Strange Chemistry, is now following you on Twitter’.


What did it mean? Was it another one of those incredibly nice ‘no’s? Was this like a pity follow, or a ‘we don’t want this but let’s see what she does in the future’ follow?

Or… could it possibly mean… could it…?

About ten minutes later, when we were lining up to go on stage for the soundcheck and rehearsal, I got the email from Catherine. It could. It did mean. Amanda did want to buy Skulk. I had a little jump up and down in the backstage corridor, and broke one of my own rules – no texting in rehearsals – to alert Jessie, my best friend and my Mum.

And when we got to the huge, exhilarating encore of Nessun Dorma later that night, nobody was singing that Gloria with more feeling than me.

Vertigo (C) The Telegraph

This place is hugely important to the ending of Skulk, and I’ve never visited it. That’s because when I started writing Skulk, it didn’t exist yet.

I don’t know why I fell so much in love with the Shard before it was even built. One of my favourite procrastination methods from writing Skulk was to go to the architecture nerd forums and skim through the photos of the core as it rose up over the London skyline.

I have no idea if the Shard is a good thing for the economy, but I think it’s beautiful and iconic and a little bit scary. I need to go up there soon – despite the slightly chilling £25 a head to go up to the viewing level.  I need to see whether my wild guesses at the layout are even vaguely accurate!

One thing I’m pretty sure I got right, though: it’s a very long way down. 

Submissions for the 2014 anthology open on the first of July! You can find out all about Undiscovered Voices at

The State of the Rosie

What am I writing? Still working away on the gay Victorian gothic YA. This month, I have mainly been making things painfully awkward for my...